Since the dawn of the MX-5, Mazda has played a consistently central role in American club road racing. The company has helped give a leg up to young, and not so young, drivers and karters looking for a path that takes them from trackside to inside the cockpit.
According to Mo Murray, Senior Vice President, Program Manager at Garage Team Mazda, which helps to oversee motorsports for the brand, it’s part of the ethos at Mazda to help people live their best lives.
“Mazda’s aim as a brand is to help unlock some of the opportunities that enable a person to live a life well-lived,” he explains. “If motorsports is how you want to live your best life, then we offer a multitude of ways for that to happen.
“It starts with the basis that all of our grassroots motorsports programs are centered around a competitive experience where driver talent and not the depth of your pocketbook are fundamental to your success. In the greater context of motorsports, our programs from Spec Miata to the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich are very affordable.”
Even so, the company realizes that those who show the talent, determination and alignment with Mazda’s values could always use some extra help. And that’s where the MX-5 Cup Scholarship comes into the mix.
Any driver competing with a Mazda in any SCCA- or NASA-sanctioned racing series during the 2022 season can be considered to take part in the MX-5 Cup Scholarship Shootout. There’s no application process. Instead, Mazda Motorsports keep close tabs on everyone who is presently racing a Mazda. Winners of specific championships automatically receive an invitation to participate in the Scholarship process.
In addition, a select number of at-large candidates from a variety of grassroots series, as well as karters who can earn a scholarship to compete in Spec MX-5 Challenge Series Presented by Toyo Tires, are named based on, among other factors, their performance, engagement with the Mazda brand and overall attitude.
“Being fast is important, but so is your overall fit with the brand,” says Murray. “Chris Nunes is an example of a young man who is very fast, but beyond that he’s always there to coach and uplift other drivers, which is the epitome of what Mazda is all about.”
It’s also important to note that there have been examples in the past of drivers who won an opportunity to participate in the Scholarship Runoff, but withdrew of their own volition having recognized that they were not the sort who required Mazda’s help to live their own version of a best life.
The 2022 MX-5 Cup Scholarship program continues with a structure proven since 2020. Mazda offers three scholarship per year, with the top award valued at $110,000 – the largest in club racing – as well as two others each valued at $75,000. Karters can earn a $50,000 scholarship towards participation in the Spec MX-5 Challenge. The expansion in the number of available scholarships helps Mazda guarantee that at least one female racer will earn a scholarship.
Championship winning club racers competing in a Mazda who win an SCCA Runoffs National Championship, NASA Championship, NASA’s Teen Mazda Challenge region, SCCA’s First Gear Mazda Challenge region, or Spec MX-5 National championship, automatically earn nominations to the MX-5 Cup Shootout.
Recognizing that talented and deserving drivers may not always be in a position to win a championship, Mazda may select other racers as at-large nominees. These nominees have the opportunity to submit a business plan, video and resume to then be selected as finalists who compete in a two-day shootout.
For those who make it as a finalist to compete at the Shootout, they should expect a test of on- and off-track skills, interviews to learn more about the finalists’ off-track business prowess, vehicle dynamics and more, as well as the chance to showcase their abilities behind the wheel of the Mazda MX-5 Cup race car.
Many of the past scholarship recipients have proven to be successful at the professional level. In the 2022 Idemitsu MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich, MX-5 Cup Shootout winners Selin Rollan (2017), Michael Carter (2018), Jared Thomas (2019), Chris Nunes and Aaron Jeansonne (2020) and Connor Zilisch (2021) are all in the thick of the points battle. After two rounds and four races, Thomas holds a narrow lead over Rollan in the fight for the overall championship and its $250,000 prize, while Zilisch leads the chase for the $85,000 that goes to the Rookie of the Year.
Connor Zilisch (72) and Aaron Jeansonne (24) are the most recent MX-5 Cup Scholarship recipients.
The 2022 Scholarship Shootout is expected to take place after the SCCA National Championship Runoffs that conclude on October 2. A detailed announcement is expected by midsummer. In the meantime, Mazda racers and karters who want to be considered, now is the time to start showing what you’re made of.
The Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich roars back into action for Rounds Five and Six at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, May 13-15. All races are streamed live on RACER.com and archived on the RACER magazine YouTube channel . To view the full season schedule and learn more about the series visit www.mx-5cup.com .
Plus, meet Connor Zilisch, winner of the 2021 MX-5 Scholarship Shootout in the 30th anniversary issue of RACER magazine, on sale May 17.